An Ode to Toluwa/ Updates on my work- Bess

Hi everyone! Because of Westtown having a visiting poet, I decided to take the opportunity to interview and converse with her, and write a little mini-biography on her. (Along with updates on my work.)

Toluwanimi Oluwafunmilayo Obiwole is a Nigerian-born, Colorado-raised visual and performance artist, educator, and organizer. At Westtown, she went by Toluwa.

Toluwa performing at the poetry assembly, Friday April 12th, 2019.

I really wanted to ask her questions about how she got into writing, and what she defines as her purpose and tension. My questions for her turned into an amazing discussion where I learned so much about the writing industry and opportunities for young writers. She is truly an inspiration.

Toluwa, as mentioned before, came to Colorado from Nigeria with her parents at around 5 or 6 years old. That is when she began journaling. As she grew up, she faced many challenges of being an immigrant, and her parents also being immigrants. Her parents degrees were invalidated in the US, and she had trouble with financial aid in college. I admire the work she put in to attend school and create so much while going through these issues.

Music was one of Toluwa’s outlets before she got into poetry. At first, Toluwa didn’t even like poetry, because it was usually by the white man. (Or at least the ones studied in school were.) It wasn’t until she went to her first spoken word poetry event where she was inspired by the writing around her, and she had the opportunity to learn and share. Some amazing writers (like Nikki Giovanni and Susie Q Smith) took Toluwa under their wing. She went on to become the amazing writer she is today, accomplishing an almost impossible amount of things. From being a free lance model, to graduating an challenging university, to performing 45 shows in 4 months, to being the first Youth Poet Laureate of Denver; Toluwa is such an accomplished young woman.

After I learned about her background, I then began to ask her about her writing specifically. Usually, Toluwa’s writing is specific imagery and tells a story, so I wanted to ask her what her purpose was for that type of writing. Her answer: Ritual. She explains in this quote below:

“I have held pain for so long from the wounds I have experienced through my identity. Whether that was being black, being queer, being a woman, I had unhealed wounds. We walk around raw, and when someone pushes, we think it is intentional, but really, it is a wound. Ritual helps me relive the pain and bring it out in a healthy way, through the ritual of writing. Sitting down, putting my thoughts on paper, sharing it, it’s all a ritual.”

“I hold my tension in my poetry through the narrative. It’s a story, almost like modifying the ritual. I try to remember through the narrative that even if it is bad now, there is an after. And the writing is like a mini-spell, a hope reducing the power of the pain, and knowing the healing.”

She also gave me some great advice about artists and their livelihood, how to take care of oneself, mentors and publishing websites to use, etc. She was beyond helpful to me! I think the best advice she gave me was that audience reception shrinks poetry, and to never write for other people. I catch myself doing that sometimes, and understanding how to avoid that is beyond helpful to me. I am so happy to have had my experience of getting to know and learning from Toluwa, such an amazing and bright woman that I know is doing and will continue to do amazing things in her life. Her beauty and passion inspires so many. She inspired me to perform at the assembly AND publish work!

Me performing at the poetry assembly, April 12th 2019

Which brings me to my next point, about new work. After talking to my mentors and teacher about my proof copy of my poetry book and Toluwa, I decided that after revisions I was ready to post a final version of my book. I published my book on April 11th on lulu.com, an independent publishing website. I am extremely excited that friends and others from home have already bought copies, and I plan to continue to sell them on lulu.com.

However, part of my project plan was to involve my community with my poetry in some way. So when I receive my order of print copies in the mail, I hope to sell the print book at Westtown and donate all those funds to a women’s shelter in West Chester, PA. So far, I have appreciated the support I have gotten for my book, and I hope by selling them within my community later in the year, that support will continue. If you want to take a look, click here!

The cover of my book!

Of course, even though my book is done, I am never done writing. I’ll end this blog post with a poem I workshopped with Toluwa and in my creative writing class. This is a poem about my name, and I tried to learn from Toluwa about holding tension through the narrative.

See you soon, thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “An Ode to Toluwa/ Updates on my work- Bess

  1. sabrina.schoenborn

    Your spoken poetry and your work are absolutely exceptional. You should be so incredibly proud of the work that you have done and continue to do. It could be work making a youtube channel in addition to your Instagram to post videos of you speaking your poetry! Keep on inspiring!

    Reply
  2. Dhillon

    That was an awesome poem! I think Sabrina’s idea of a youtube channel would be great for your poetry and possibly help reach an even larger audience. Keep up the great work!

    Reply

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